After looking impressive in the first two weeks, rising up the power rankings, and getting off to a 2-0 start against teams they were supposed to beat, the Ravens now get a chance to unseat a team that is supposed to beat them. They go on the road to face the incumbent number 1 seeded Kansas City Chiefs, who boast the best offense in the NFL from last season. Facing the Chiefs gives the Ravens an opportunity to show that they can compete with anybody. A victory, or even a close game like last season’s encounter will legitimize the Ravens as serious AFC contenders, rather than merely a competitor for the 4th-6th seed like the last couple seasons.
KC was one of the best teams in the NFL last season, with major contributions coming from a top three player at three different positions.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes won the MVP award last season, leading the NFL in yards per attempt and touchdowns, while finishing second in total yards. He has looked just as effective in the first two games this season. His arm strength allows him to make accurate throws all over the field. Dealing with the Chiefs passing game will be a major concern for the Ravens.
Tight end Travis Kelce briefly held the single season record for tight end receiving yards before it was broken by George Kittle. He finished last season with 1336 yards and 10 touchdowns, while leading the Chiefs in targets and receptions. He is more than just a matchup problem against certain personnel groups- Kelce is a primary receiving weapon.
Defensive tackle Chris Jones was probably the second best interior pass rusher in 2018 after Aaron Donald. He totaled 16 sacks and 74 pressures last season, the former of which was 3 sacks more than anyone other than Donald. Against the Ravens last season, he recorded both a sack and a tackle for loss.
Kansas City does still have weaknesses. The issue is that their weaknesses are less important, while their main strength is the most important strength a team can have. What KC has done poorly this season is run the ball and defend the run. The departure of Kareem Hunt has hurt their run game, if not necessarily their offense as a whole, with their season yards per carry average being only 3.0. Opponents have actually found success running the ball against them, gaining 210 yards on 35 carries for an average of 6.0. This would have been a huge vulnerability for last season’s Ravens, but they pass the ball so well now that it won’t be exploited as much. It will still be something useful to fall back on if the passing game stumbles.
Ravens Outside Linebackers vs Cam Erving: Chiefs starting left tackle Eric Fisher is listed as out against the Ravens, which means Cam Erving will be tasked with blocking Matt Judon, Pernell McPhee, Tyus Bowser, and Tim Williams. Erving was drafted in the first round of the 2015 draft by the Browns. After two unproductive seasons with them, the Browns shipped him to the Chiefs for a fifth-round pick. The Chiefs want to keep Mitchell Schwartz in his natural position of right tackle, which means that they will have a backup as their starting blindside protector. The Ravens should find some success on Sunday when scheming up blitzes on the offense’s left side and have a variety of rushers to send.
Travis Kelce vs Tony Jefferson and Ravens Linebackers: Right now, Travis Kelce is probably the best tight end in the NFL. Since his first start, Patrick Mahomes has thrown for more yards to Kelce than to any other pass catcher, and Mahomes should continue to go to him on Sunday. Last time the Ravens faced the Chiefs, Kelce caught 7 of 9 targets for 77 yards and a touchdown, but the absence of Tyreek Hill means that Kelce will likely see more targets for more yards this time around. Tony Jefferson was not as strong in coverage as other Ravens DBs last season, allowing a 73.9% completion percent, and 9.48 yards per attempt. Kelce is a typical mismatch against linebackers as well and has the edge in this matchup if the Ravens attempt man coverage against him.
Betting Line and Prediction
The Ravens are 6 point underdogs in Kansas City according to the Vegas Insider consensus. While the Ravens have played as well as anyone over the past two weeks, the Chiefs are coming off a season where the earned the first seed and had a better 2017 than the Ravens as well. The Chiefs are considered a much more proven team than the Ravens because of this. The fact that the game will be played in Kansas City also contributes to the Ravens’ underdog status. Its tempting to point out how the Ravens took KC to the wire last time and appear to have improved, while the Chiefs lost Tyreek Hill and Eric Fisher. I’m looking at the bigger picture though, where the Chiefs have over 2 seasons of evidence for them being a top team, rather than two games this season and one matchup last season. Chiefs 31, Ravens 27.